Our political system seems to be at a crossroads with insurgents, particularly from the right, making compromise an afterthought. As a result, Congress has been largely ineffective and currently holds a nine percent approval rating from the public. With the two parties’ nomination process well underway, businessman and media personality Donald Trump seems destined to win the Republican Party’s nomination. Donald Trump’s views certainly have been extreme in terms of immigration and foreign policy, promising to build a wall and force Mexico to pay for it, for instance. Trump has also advocated for the banning of Muslims entry into the United States. While many have expressed disgust with Trump’s views, Republican Party voters have flocked to the candidate and have catapulted him to front runner for the nomination. In light of Trump’s success, we’ve decided to chronicle the top ten most polarizing nominees and candidates for President of the United States.
10. John G. Schmitz
One of the most bizarre candidates on our list who sought the nation’s highest office is John G. Schmitz. The Republican member of the House of Representatives from California was so extreme that he was expelled from a radical group called the John Birch Society. Schmitz called the Watts Riots a “communist operation” and argued that state universities should be sold to private organizations to quell student protests. Foreshadowing the insurgent takeover of the party, Schmitz bluntly stated his dislike for Republican President Nixon. When asked if he supported President Nixon’s going to China, he replied, “I didn’t care that Nixon went to China, I was only upset that he came back.” After eventually losing his seat in Congress to a Nixon backed candidate, Schmitz decided to run for president in 1972 and received 1,100,868 votes for 1.42% of the total. His political career would come to an end when allegations of marital infidelity came to light. The allegations would prove to be true as Schmitz was forced to come forward when an infant child was taken to the hospital for damage to his penis. Doctors threatened to arrest the young immigrant mother if she did not divulge the identity of the father who happened to be Schmitz. During a custody hearing, John G. Schmitz admitted to fathering the child but would never provide any support for the child. A wild and weird case for sure.
9. Earl Browder
A case with certainly more intrigue was the presidential campaigns of Earl Browder. A leading figure of the Communist Party USA, it is alleged that Browder secretly worked with the Soviet Union. Browder was born in Kansas, and was an active participant in the U.S. labor movements as a teenager, eventually being arrested for resisting the draft during World War I. As the General Secretary of the Communist Party USA, Browder was nominated twice as the party’s candidate for President. In the election of 1936, he received 80,195 votes. His great support of the Soviet Union caused him great harm when the Nazi-Soviet pact was announced. Browder faced a charge of passport fraud which seemed to be due to his ardent support of what was now considered, more than ever, a political enemy. Once again nominated in 1940, Browder was still appealing the conviction for passport forgery, which carried a four-year stint in federal prison. He would receive 40,000 votes in the 1940 election and eventually be expelled from the Communist Party.
8. Henry Wallace
Another example of the in-fighting that would destine our current party dynamics is the progressive presidential campaign of Henry Wallace. A fascinating fact about the young Wallace is that growing up in Iowa, his family took in George Washington Carver, who was studying at Iowa State University. The experience with Carver certainly helped spur the future Secretary of Agriculture’s love of botany and may have also help shape his views on rapid desegregation. Henry Wallace would serve as Secretary of Agriculture until 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt chose him to be his Vice President. The decision was met with much hostility amongst the more conservative members of the party. Wallace received only the support of 626.3 votes (around 59% of the 1100 delegates) when nominated at the convention, and it took Roosevelt threatening to decline the nomination to finally calm the party. Henry Wallace’s biggest moment would come during the darkest hours of World War II with his delivery of the speech titled: “The Price of Free World Victory.” Conservative members of the party would demean it by calling it “the century of the common man.” In his speech, Wallace advocates for a world where a newfound freedom allows all to have an equitable stake in society. Eventually, Wallace’s stances would ruffle the wrong feathers and he was removed as Roosevelt’s running mate in favor of Harry S. Truman. It’s interesting to contemplate what would have happened if he had been given the opportunity to be President with Roosevelt’s death.
7. Ralph Nader
To this day, many Democrats curse when they hear the name Ralph Nader. The Green Party candidate is often blamed for the election of George W. Bush instead of former Vice President Al Gore. It is hard to blame Nader for running a campaign that attempted to present an alternative for voters who had become disillusioned by the two party system. Ralph Nader has had a great history as a champion for consumer rights and protections. His book “Unsafe at Any Speed” was a landmark work that led to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a massive shift in automobile safety that put the onus on government to help regulate the industry. In addition, the legislation mandated a series of safety features for automobiles, beginning with safety belts and stronger windshields. In the 2000 election, Ralph Nader decided that he would run again for President under the Green Party ticket. He had received nearly 700,000 votes in 1996, and believed that the upcoming election was again representative of the corruptive powers of government as both candidates, Nader believed, were controlled by corporate interests. One of the highlights of the campaign was a rally held in New York City where nearly 15,000 people paid 20 dollars each to hear him speak. Nader would go on to receive almost three million votes in the closest election in US history.
6. William Jennings Bryan
Not too many men can claim to have been nominated as a major party candidate three times, but William Jennings Bryan had the voice and oratory skills to captivate Democrats into believing in him. Nicknamed “the Great Commoner,” Bryan advocated for “free silver” with the hopes that it would circulate more money into the economy, which would help the massive debts held by farmers and common folk. A strong Christian, Bryan was a supporter of Prohibition and an opponent of Darwinism for religious reasons. And while he never won the White House, Bryan managed to win a total of 493 electoral votes from his failed campaigns; the most ever by a candidate who never won the presidency. In the election of 1912, Bryan supported Woodrow Wilson, who then went on to win the election and later appointed Bryan as Secretary of State. A staunch pacifist and a man of principle, William Jennings Bryan resigned his post after Wilson made strong demands of Germany following the sinking of the Lusitania. Unfortunately, he would later become known for arguing against evolution in the Scopes Trial which attempted to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools.
5. Barry Goldwater
The biggest lopsided victory in American politics came in the 1964 election when Barry Goldwater was defeated by Lyndon Johnson. Many political theorists have cited the defeat as the result of party extremists gaining too much power and nominating a candidate that did not have a chance in the general election. The 1964 election may prove to have a lot of similarities with our upcoming elections. Goldwater ran on a platform that advocated for the limitation of government’s interference in the rights of state affairs, particularly in the realm of integration. His segregationist stance along with his other extreme positions divided the party and led to many challenges for Goldwater before receiving the party’s nomination. Finally, after winning enough delegates, Goldwater exclaimed in his acceptance speech that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” The 1964 election would see President Lyndon Johnson receive 61% of the vote, topping the previous record by Franklin D. Roosevelt, while also carrying 44 states. Goldwater would only win his home state of Arizona along with five others in the Deep South.
4. George McGovern
An example on the Democratic Party-side of a nominating a populist candidate would be McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972. When George McGovern entered the race, he was a little known candidate and ranked fifth among Democrats in a presidential preference poll. However, the outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War managed to win the party’s nomination, but his grassroots campaign split and fractured the party, leading to a greatly disappointing election result. Partly due to the divide in the party, McGovern’s Vice Presidential requests were rejected by many leading Democrats, including the likes of Senator Ted Kennedy. His eventual nominee Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton turned out to be not very well vetted and it soon became public that just two weeks earlier he had been hospitalized and received electroshock therapy. Eagleton would have to withdraw from the ticket and the election would be a landslide with McGovern only winning 37 percent of the vote and 17 electoral votes.
3. Michelle Bachmann
One of the most bizarre candidates for President we’ve had in some time was Michelle Bachmann. In the 2012 election, she managed to win the Ames Straw Poll, the first test of the election cycle, but things went south from there. Bachmann would drop out of the race after finishing sixth in the Iowa Caucus, however she left behind a plate of ignorance and misinformation that is difficult to swallow. In 2011, after a serious earthquake and hurricane, Bachmann suggested that God caused the natural disasters so the American people would become aware and address government spending. A supporter and founder of the Tea Party Caucus, Bachmann championed the ideas of creationism and phasing out Social Security, Medicare and the minimum wage. After dropping out of the race, Bachmann would make headlines again with her xenophobia. In 2012, she accused Hilary Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood simply because she is Muslim. Even Ed Rollins, her former campaign chief, admonished her extreme and polarizing comments calling them “outrageous and false.” Lucky for us, Michelle Bachmann no longer is a member of the House of Representatives.
2. Homer Aubrey Tomlinson
Having “King of the World” as a backup plan to several failed elections gives us a little insight into the type of man Homer Aubrey Tomlinson was. A New York City preacher, Tomlinson ran for the presidency in five straight elections, from 1952 until his death in 1968. Before running for president, Tomlinson worked as an advertising professional, but it appears that his campaigns for president were genuine and were based on religious fervor. Tomlinson founded his own political organization, the Theocratic Party, and issued platform statements that included the replacement of taxation with tithing and the creation of a new cabinet post: Secretary of Righteousness. After failing to win his final election, Tomlinson went on a sort of crusade around the world where he declared himself “King of the World.” We have to say, at least he didn’t go out like President Nixon.
1. Donald Trump
The inspiration for this article, Donald Trump may be one of the first polarizing figures to ever win a nomination for a major party. Not too long ago, we wrote that it was unlikely for the businessman and media mogul to win the nomination but we appear to have been wrong. Trump is the clear front runner and has done so by advocating and promoting ideas that many find not fitting for a candidate of our highest office. Trump has said bombastic things like “he would bomb ISIS” and somehow keep the oil while not giving aid to rebels who may be affiliated with radical Islamists. In addition, he has stated that global warming does not exist and “jokingly” claimed it was a hoax by the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive. However, what’s the most troubling about Trump is the group of people that his candidacy has seemed to bring out of the shadows. His xenophobic remarks and anti-immigrant and minority rhetoric has awakened a darker side to the Republican Party that many tried to hide. The nomination of Trump could be a watershed moment for the Party as it decides which direction it will go in the future.